Thursday, October 18, 2012

Surveillance Countermeasures: A Book Review

by Gamal Hennessy
One element that often comes up in my writing is surveillance. Ria Marlen stalks a pedophile from the shadows or Harrison Trent takes complex steps to detect and avoid a tail. In spy fiction, surveillance is as common as chase scenes in action films. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about The Pavement Artists in John Le Carre’s classics or the SDR’s of Barry Eisler. There is an art and a science to being followed.
One of the books that I’ve used to inform my writing is Surveillance Countermeasures (SC). Released by Paladin Press in 1994, this book approaches counter surveillance as a skill not just for spies but for business executives working abroad, victims of stalkers and others. While the book does go into a lot of theory and practice for avoiding observation on foot, in a vehicle or even in the home, it makes several assumptions that reduce its effectiveness for a wide audience.
The book starts by explaining the difference between surveillance detection (figuring out you are being followed or watched), surveillance avoidance (eluding someone who is trying to follow you) and counter surveillance (following the people who are following you). Then SC walks you through the process of detecting, avoiding and countering observation in a variety of scenarios including day, night, on foot, in a car, in urban, sub urban and rural areas. It even tries to provide a small section on detecting microphones and video cameras in your home, although that section lost me and I doubt it is as relevant now as it was in 1994.
For all the good information that SC provides, it has its limitations. The main one is that it assumes you are being shadowed by professionals over a long period of time. This gives you a chance to detect patterns of movement or behavior during the course of your daily life. That premise makes perfect sense for the scenarios that I write about, where professional operators and terrorists have the patience to put their schemes in motion. It isn’t as applicable for the woman being stalked by her jealous boyfriend or the potential crime victim being followed by an opportunistic criminal. I don’t think this reduces the utility of this book overall, but the audience it can serve isn’t as broad as it claims.
The other minor point is that SC was written in 1994, so it doesn’t take technological advances into account. A new version that I haven’t read was released in 2008. While that might be dated as well anyone interested in SC should probably pick up the updated version. I would also suggest picking up Marc MacYoung’s Street E&E book to get a more visceral perspective on the subject.
I think my descriptions of surveillance have been enhanced by this book. I recommend it to anyone who is interested about this art.
Have fun.

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